Blue chair + plane tickets = cheery disposition
In the tired place

On budgeting, SAHMing, and Purpose In Life-ing

Money talk is SO AWKWARD, isn't it?*

Budgeting has not been a strong point in the Cheung Household (UNDERSTATEMENT), but we are giving it another go in 2015. For a long while Phillip paid all the bills and did all the money stuff and I was a proper 1950s housewife who knew nothing about nothing. Then he went back to school and taking over the money stuff was something I could help with - and shoot, I kept myself afloat through college, working and paying my own bills and whatnot, I'm not TOTALLY useless. And I developed my own "budgeting" system (mostly a very neurotic Excel spreadsheet and stacks of receipts), but I'd say that all of the budgeting we've ever done has been more of a "Oh, huh, look at all the categories we overspent in THIS month!" rather than a "Oh, huh, look at that category, we should probably not go out to dinner tonight." You know? I was SUPER GOOD at tracking what big spenders we were, basically. 

Earlier this year when the bakery started taking over my life, Phillip went back to doing the money stuff. And he started using Mint, which I absolutely positively cannot stand. For unidentifiable reasons. I just do. Also Phillip's mode of budgeting was basically the same as mine (excellent tracking! not so much with the cutting!), except he added an element of OHHHH NOOOO and this is where everything went to pot. Many many MANY discussions this year re: our differing approaches to money, our differing views on what is enough money, our differing views on what to do with the money. I should say that we are in full agreement on the big questions; it's the small nitty gritty questions where we butt heads. 

We had another of these painful conversations last night, and a lot of OTHER stuff plays into these conversations too, right? How you grew up, expectations, general levels of stress, how you cope, all sorts of really complicated things that you just have to accept and put aside and deal. We manage to do that by having a fight first, then having a productive conversation. Is there a better way to do this? Probably! We just haven't figured out how yet. 

ANYWAY. For a multitude of reasons, not least because I never understood Mint, we downloaded the free trial of You Need A Budget and set the whole thing up. We are hopeful! I already understand the system better than I ever understood Mint, and Phillip appreciates having everything accessible and uploadable and not color coded in aqua and pink and yellow with circular reference errors all over the place (I didn't say I was GOOD at Excel). 

But we did decide that we couldn't send EJ to preschool like I hoped. It's not a HUGE deal and we WILL find a way to make it work next year when she's four, but stuff like Europe Trips and house maintenance are the big deals currently. And preschool's expensive, even the cheap ones. I cut the housecleaner because they were honestly causing me more stress than helping, but I know that will be annoying as soon as it's time to clean a toilet. We made up good-sounding amounts for groceries and dining out and clothing, but have we ever adhered to those amounts before? This feels a bit like a new year's resolution to lose weight that's bound to crap out by February. I have a definite "oh, everything works out!" personality which drives my poor husband around the bend, so it's in the interest of our marriage that I stay engaged and concerned. And I plan to. I'd like to learn how to SAVE money and go to Europe AGAIN! (Phillip: hanging head)

Any discussion of money, though, takes me into the Is It Okay That I'm A SAHM frets and I feel kinda insecure tonight. Especially reading everyone's tweets about their kick ass working moms today. I know Phillip would have preferred I stay working, though it wasn't a choice I made so much as my job sort of disappeared after I left it and I wasn't sure how to "go back" to work. And also we were making it work on one income. And I never liked my job. Or working in an office. And I really loved staying home. And yes, I have ALWAYS felt like someone was going to TELL ON ME or something, that's how much I loved (love) staying home. 

I don't think I'm especially GOOD at it or anything. I am not SuperMom. I do as little housework and cooking as I can get away with. When they were babies I hung out with my friends with babies as much as humanly possible. I've done a lot of shopping and coffee drinking and napping. For a while I did a lot of exercising. My kids are clean and fed and taken care of, but am I teaching them to read or doing art projects or playing games? Um, SOMEtimes? Not REALLY? They know their families really well. They know about being kind. They are forced to eat vegetables every couple of days. ???

I think one thing I feel confident about, but also mixed-feelings about, is that because I stayed home with the kids, Phillip has been able to pursue everything he's wanted to pursue. Grad school, business travel, switching jobs several times, without ever worrying about how to manage things at home. I have always taken care of that and I for sure don't know how he would have earned that Master's degree without me holding down the fort. (I suppose there's an argument to be made re: "but YOU'RE the one who wanted to have kids", but that's a dark mental pit that doesn't actually exist in the real world and I try to stay away from it.) 

THAT SAID. I'm not sure what that gets me as a woman in the 21st century. I have family members and friends for whom it's VERY IMPORTANT to be able to earn your own living. And I... can't do that. Something happens to Phillip? Not sure what I'd do. I have nothing to fall back on. And I never found The Thing I Like Doing. Although... I think I HAVE, actually, but no one pays you to be a professional pray-er. (This is my problem, Phillip says. Everything I work hard at is not paid work. ALAS.)

In that respect I feel failure-ish. It's all on my husband to support our family. Even if I WANTED to help, childcare would cost more than whatever I would take home. (At least now, while we still have one at home.) Perhaps I have let myself down? I have not been All I Could Be? Am not fabulous career woman, famous writer, rich business lady, cannot even buy my own lip gloss.

But even THAT... I mean, I LIKE my life! I don't feel unfulfilled or unhappy. I DO feel guilty, sometimes, that I am not contributing financially. And that what I AM doing (bakery work, long weekends for churchy conferences) is somewhat hard on my husband without any financial gain for us. Most of the time I feel like I have plenty of time to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up, though I suspect it doesn't involve an office or more schooling or any sort of financial independence. Gah. Uh... life would be pretty DULL without me?! **

 

*I have an Asian-American husband, Asian-American in-laws, and two Asian-American best friends and this means I talk about money in public a LOT. The cultural differences here, they are big time. 

**I KNOOOOOOW. I KNOW I AM WORTHY AND VALUABLE EVEN IF I DON'T HAVE A PAYCHECK. I'm just saying, if I kept writing about that this blog post would be eons long. It's ALREADY eons long. I AM AMAZED YOU GOT THIS FAR. 

Comments

Sarah

I just set up YNAB today too, and I have high hopes. My husband and I have alternated (but not really in any planned way) working out of the house. This year is the first time we've had two full time incomes, and it's a novelty. Granted one income is there to help us pay off some debts faster, so it doesn't really change the budget. Anyway, we have these same discussions/arguments, just know you're not alone.

K

This post spoke to me for sure. I have 4 kids...5 1/2 and under. I have a college degree but with 4 little ones I have stayed home from when I was pregnant with my son, after having graduated and gotten married right out of college.

We are lucky in that we do have a comfortable lifestyle compared to most on one income, but my husband's job is not a 8-5 Mon-Fri, more like 7:30-6:30 most days and occasional travel.

I used to feel a lot of the same feelings you feel. We never had any "debt" but our mortgage but we were spending our savings/bonus quicker than I would have liked. So I took over the finances a year ago. I do like you need a budget but I found just watching my accounts grow has helped me a lot, especially the sinking funds and extra savings I started from our reg accounts.

Also...I sell our gently used kids clothing (most name brands) and new or used stuff on eBay for between $100-$500 extra a month. It's not a ton but it's a nice little bit of "fun money" for me to "splurge" on some nicer stuff :) super easy too! And definitely helps with the "SAHM guilt" for sometimes spending and not having to justify it lol.

Julie

That paragraph about the SAHM frets? That expresses how I feel exactly.I feel like I should want to work and build a career, but I haven't found that Thing I'd like it to be, plus I pretty much enjoy this gig anyway. So thanks for putting words to the rumblings and guilt-laden confusion rolling around in my head. I'm glad to know you.

Emily

There are days I really REALLY think that you're in my head and that we are the same person.

Other than the Mint hate (it's free - what else could you want?!) I could have written your post word for word.

Lis

We have used YNAB for years, many 5 or 6 and you are right that you are basically just tracking your expenses. But after a while you quit lying to yourself about the categories you over spend in (groceries anyone?) and start budgeting the correct amount up front. That hasn't keep me from spending too much on groceries but when projecting out a few months it helps us accurately predict how much extra we will have which is valuable too when trying to save for something big.

Laura

Hi there! Friend of Elsha's here who referred me to you because we are both 3s on the enneagram. And boy does this sound like a 3 post...

You had a paragraph in there about everything you're husband has been able to do because you're at home. Let's focus on that because it is HUGE. Both my husband and I work. And let me tell you, we can't both have "successful" careers with a kid. So we often have "discussions" about how much time and energy we can each give to work. Our peers with stay-at-home wives are ridiculously lucky to not have to deal with that.

Colleen

Please never stop blogging.
Everything you wrote about being a SAHM is what is always floating around in my head, but have no idea how to put into words.

Jen

I missed most of the working mom posts and I truly have nothing against it, if it works for your family, but for mine (both my family of origin and my current family of awesome) it just doesn't/didn't work. When my mom went back to work full-time, maybe it was a little too full-time (she and my dad started a 7 days a week retail business) and I personally believe it started a lot of the bad dynamics between my brother and I. After all, as the oldest, she was around for my whole childhood but not his. Society spends a lot of time telling us that SAH has no value, that we are making a mistake, that careers are important, etc. But Maggie! You loved it so much you were afraid that someone would figure out and tell on you! :) You had value to Phillip, it has given him so many opportunities! I'm incredibly thankful that where Adam works, the vast majority of the wives stay home because the nature of their business makes things SO MUCH EASIER when there is a spouse at home to handle the home stuff, so a lot of times I just feel "normal". I've also been fortunate to find a lot of other Dallas SAHMs so I rarely feel alone.

All that said and I would never identify you as a SAHM! You own and operate a lovely bakery! You are modeling for your children starting a business. I can speak from my childhood that they are learning SO! MUCH! from watching you. I had no idea how much until I started really talking business with my husband and I realized how much I had grown up with and therefore was intuitive. You're raising little MBAs! So, I hope in a small way, I've made you feel better because don't ever doubt you, you are awesome and you are everything your kids and Phillip and your household needs.

Biscuitweaver

I identify with so much of what you're saying except in the reverse, sort of. I work full time and my husband stays home with our passel of kidlets. I love my job. I worked hard to get here and not only do I enjoy what I do, I am fortunate enough that it is fulfilling and I am well-compensated. My husband is a great SAHD and our kids are (mostly) (so far) well-adjusted. And yet: I am OFTEN beset by guilt that I am not the one staying at home. SOmetimes it is because I am truly sad that I am not able to be there for the field trips, school parties, and general getting-to-know-the-other-moms. Somtimes it's because at my parish, almost all of the Catholic families who are serious about living their faith have SAHMs and dads who work outside the home. It makes it very difficult to fit in, very difficult for an introvert like me to make friends, very difficult to develop a community. My husband's a great guy, but he ain't about to join a MOPS group.

SO I don't know what my point was there other than to say no matter what we choose, there is always (especially for us moms) some level of regret and wondering. Intercessory prayer isn't one of my charisms, but I'll be praying for you nonetheless.

Hillary

This is so on my brain right now. On one hand, I'm applying for jobs left and right and feeling like I might go crazy if I don't get a title that doesn't refer to my relationship to my family. On the other hand, having me home is so nice for our family. I handle all the chores we used to have to fit in on the weekend, I have extra time with the boys, I cook without rushing, the boys don't have to go to daycare, etc. I even have time to write things that aren't blog posts or assigned to me, which is so nice -- but does that count if no one pays me for it/reads it?

Suzy Freeman

So, I feel like there may not be a way to express this without coming across as a troll, but the thought kept popping into my head as I read your post and the comments, so here goes: many of the people who are working full time have not in fact found The Thing They Like Doing. They have probably found A Thing They Can Tolerate Doing So That They Can Pay the Bills.

I'm in my mid-30s and have worked full time since I was 21 years old and I still don't really know what I want to be when I grow up. I definitely haven't found something that makes me spring out of bed each morning, excited to do my job, and yet I keep going in to work every day.

I feel like it is an incredible thing of privilege to believe that a job should fulfill you, or feed your soul, or be The Thing I Like Doing and Yet Get Paid For. I'm not saying you or any of the commenters or anyone else needs to quit being a SAHM and get a job (I neither know you that well nor care that much), but I must admit that I find it a touch, well, privileged, to hear someone say that they can't work because they haven't figured out what they would LIKE to do, or LIKE to be.

I suspect my perspective is skewed because I am one of those people who pretty much NEEDS to support myself and contribute financially to my family, but couldn't one perhaps figure out what one wanted to do or be whilst working a job?

Becky

I know those SAHM feelings - I gave up teaching to stay with my 3 kids - and my in-laws made certain I knew how "privileged" and "spoiled" I was, and how hard my poor husband had to work. But do not underestimate what your contribution to his career has been. Now the kids are older, my husband's career is established, and it's my turn again. Right now, you are exactly where you are supposed to be in your journey.

And I don't think you said you can't work because you haven't found what you like to do, you just haven't found anything you'd like to do more than be home with your kids. Privileged? Perhaps. But I always felt that since I had the privilege of being able to chose, I owed it to the kids to do what would be best for them. For our family, that was me being home.

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